Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Something Great Out of Wasilla

The house lights dim on stage. There are three huge backdrops hanging that look reminiscent of something out of an early 1970’s Fillmore East concert. The images in the dim light on stage are hard to make out clearly. The band then comes out. They are also shrouded in mystery and are hard to visually see. The lead singer and guitarist not only has a hat on, but a hoodie that covers his face. He will spend the rest of the evening facing his band more often than the audience. The stage is dark and the band plugs in. The music starts and the lights are pulsating on the huge backdrops. They change color, and every time the color changes, the images look like they have come to life and are moving. These images are looking at us, as well as the band. The music is also psychedelic and in rhythm with the light show. I am not at a show in the 1970’s but rather mesmerized by the band Portugal the Man in 2010.

The first time I listened to “People Say” I knew I was hooked. “Save me, I can’t be saved” sings John Baldwin Gourley as he opens the bands album The Satanic Satanist. It is a beautiful and chilling anti-war song with a chorus that remarks “May have lost a million men, but we have got a million more”. It was my top album from last year. It moved me personally, the way music is intended to move you. The moment I heard this album I knew I needed to see this band live.

I had my chance visiting a friend in Denver and we got to see Portugal the Man at the beautiful Bluebird Theatre which is one of my favorite places ever to see a show. I came out of the show not only more impressed with the band, but knew I needed to listen to more of Portugal the Man.

The band has its roots coming out of Wasilla, Alaska. It is obviously the best thing to come out of this small town. They now currently reside in Portland, Oregon and have recently signed (June 2010) on to Atlantic Records. They formed in 2004, released their first full length in 2006 and have risen these past few years to high critical acclaim. Alternative Press declared Censored Colors as one of 2008’s essential albums to have. The bands sound comes from many different influences ranging from neo-soul, R&B, avant-garde, 70’s rock and sampling. John Baldwin Gourley’s voice carries the lyrics through with his great phrasing.

The band just released a new CD this year American Ghetto. It continues the growth of Satanic Satanist and if you see it you should get it, for they only released 15,000 copies. I have the fortune of having one. The CD deals a lot with growing up in a small town with all the joys and frustrations that comes with it. The CD also expands to a world view that the band has grown into.

Here is a live video of "People Say" at their breakthrough performance at 2009 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. This performance created a lot of national buzz that probably led to their signing to a major label.

The band is not only talented but their CD's may have the best packaging in the music industry. The artwork for The Satanic Satanist is certainly worth the price of the CD without even liking the music. The packaging folds up, out, and up again. It is truly a work of art and adds to the quirkiness of the band. However, the music is excellent, so make sure to give Portugal the Man a serious listen.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An All American Band: The Drive-By Truckers

A few years back, my friend and co-blogger Fletcher McNeill told me that an indie Southern Rock band, The Drive-By Truckers was coming to town. He asked me if I wanted to go see them perform live. Not the biggest fan of Southern Rock, except the original Allman Brothers Band, I nonetheless paid attention when I later heard a few tunes by DBT on the radio and was impressed. I then purchased their latest CD at the time, The Dirty South, and started listening to it more intently.

I was flabbergasted by the songwriting, especially for "Where the Devil Don't Stay," "It Sounded Like a Train," and "Carl Perkins' Cadillac." And the songs grew on me even more as I listened to them repeatedly. The Austin City Limits website says that DBT "surveys the modern South with a complex blend of realism-tempered pride and compassionate but uncompromising analysis," and I agree.

The ballad "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," written in the third person, tells the story of how Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, promised (and subsequently delivered) a Cadillac to the first artist who worked for him to achieve a gold record in sales. The song, in a flowing and reverent manner invokes the names of many of the founders of rock and roll -- Carl Perkins, Elvis, and Johnny Cash. Not coincidentally, DBT hails from the mini-musical mecca Muscle Shoals, Alabama, also the source of Sam Phillip's roots. The Muscle Shoals area continues to produce interesting new bands like DBT and Fiddleworms.

Back in 2004, attending that DBT live show with Fletcher, left me, in a word, amazed. The Truckers performed for several hours, going through a large chunk of their repertoire. Since then, despite personnel changes, they continue to put out quality albums. Still, I must confess that The Dirty South continues to be my favorite.

Enjoy "Never Gonna Change" from The Dirty South!

On a side note, DBT served as the backup band for Bettye Lavette's 2007 break-out album, The Scene of the Crime, which I mentioned in a previous blog.

Caught up in the Delta Spirit

I first had the privilege of seeing Delta Spirit live as they opened for Dr. Dog a few years ago. When I go to see live music, I always want to catch the opening acts, for you never know what to expect. Usually I am not too excited and sometimes even disappointed, but every now and then I come away understanding why you should catch opening bands live. I loved and had worked the merch tables for Dr. Dog before and was excited to see them again. I was at a small club that held around 200 people, and the room was abuzz about Dr. Dog. Then this one guy (not from Dr. Dog) came onstage banging a trashcan. At this point we were not sure who he was or if he was just some random person who walked onstage (which in Baltimore, may not be unusual). Then someone else came out and started banging a marching band bass drum that was on the stage floor. A third person came onstage and started banging the drum also. A fourth person came on with a folding chair and started banging it. It all led up to this amazing percussive rhythm, then guitar and piano, and all of a sudden the whole room was engulfed in this band's spiritual energy. The song was "Trashcan." The band delivered every song with equal passion the whole night, and the room was caught up in Delta Spirit. I have been a big fan ever since.

Delta Spirit formed in Southern California in 2005 when 2 members found Matt Vasquez singing on a bench at 2:00 in the morning. He wanted a band, and they needed a singer. Matt’s unique voice and their use of nontraditional instruments create almost an old-time revival feeling in their amazing live shows. You cannot help but be caught up in their spirit. Part R&B, part Americana, plus a little bit of punk sprinkled with some folk-rock, and soul and you get the sound of this band.

Delta Spirit put out its first full-length album Ode to Sunshine by themselves, recording in a cabin in the mountains outside of San Diego. The album had a lot of positive buzz, and they were picked up by Rounder Records, who put out basically the same album on its own label. They then went out with bands like the Cold War Kids and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Like me, lots of people have fallen in love with their live shows.

Delta Spirit has just put out a new album titled History from Below. The title was inspired by historian Howard Zinn. The subject matter of the lyrics are impactful and don’t shy away from a real look at the state of the world today. The band has made great strides forward in songwriting, instrumentation, and vocals. At points their harmonies are both beautiful and haunting. The album features rockers to ballads to even some psychedelic sounds. Enjoy this new video of their single "Bushwick Blues."

I encourage you to seriously listen to this band. I believe you won’t be disappointed. Above everything, please see Delta Spirit live if you are so fortunate to have them playing in your area. These are road-tested warriors who don’t disappoint.